Thursday, April 17, 2008

Boys and reading success: Get them reading

Paul Jennings is a well-known Australian (well he came here from England at age 6) children's author who has written many books for boys. In a recent article that appeared in the Melbourne Age, he shared his thoughts on why he writes the books he does and the challenges in helping boys to become readers. Some of his key points were:

  • Parents are important to children's reading success because much of the groundwork occurs before children start formal schooling.
  • Half an hour a day with a "skilled helper" is what a child needs to help them with reading.
  • Men are examples for boys, and fathers who read are likely to have sons who read.
  • It doesn't matter what a father reads as long as he reads for pleasure and demonstrates that this is a choice men make.
  • Boys have some interests that are different from girls and we need to recognise this fact.
  • Starting with books about sport or humour is a good place to start.
  • But ultimately, the quality of the story is the most important thing, not the topic although books need to recognise the diverse range of interests of boys.
  • While boy's might seem to have limited reading interests at first, no matter where boys start reading, ultimately quality will be what keeps them reading.

The ideas in Paul Jennings AGE article are based on his book for parents 'The Reading Bug'.
To his ideas I would add the following points:
  • Boys need a lot of help choosing books that they will not only like but which they will be able to read.
  • Take the time to help your sons choose books, if they pick up a book with an exciting cover and find that they can't read it this will be a disincentive.
  • It is helpful to read with your sons (certainly right through primary school) - a good way to do this is to read the first few pages aloud and then ask your son to read on. In this way you'll find that your son can read for longer and cope with harder books.
  • Don't forget the importance of non-fiction - boys want to learn and non-fiction is often a good way in - books about sea creatures, space, sport, transport, technology of any kind.
  • There is also a place for riddles, joke books, poetry and silly rhymes.
  • Comics and magazines are also a good place to start - get them reading.
  • Online reading and research is also a good source of reading challenge for boys.
Boys, because they are boys (and are different) will enjoy books more when they help them to discover, experiment, explore, learn new things, make them laugh, consider the curious or unusual, help them to play, see how things work, share trivia tricks and facts with other boys, explore the unknown, and generally do stuff!

Motivating boys to read can be done by people other than fathers but what Jennings is saying, and what research from many disciplines supports, is that fathers have a special role to play in supporting their sons, motivating them and providing good models for them. Fathers have a significant impact on their children’s learning and behaviour. As my previous post on the subject of fathers indicated, the quality of the relationship between boys and their fathers matters.

For the full text of the AGE article 'Boy Story' click here. For more information about Paul and his books click here. For information on 'The Reading Bug' (his book for parents) click here.

If you want a great list of books for 11-14 year old boys suggested by the School Library Association in the UK click here. You can download the entire publication for free with its list of 160 books with quick summaries organised by category (e.g. discover, play, spy, experiment, laugh etc). Every parent with a teenage boy should have a look at this resource. I plan to do another post later on motivating younger boys.


max said...


I grew up as a reluctant reader. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys 8 and up, that kids hate to put down. My web site is at and my Books for Boys blog is at
Ranked by Accelerated Reader

Thank you,

Max Elliot Anderson

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Max, Glad you dropped by from Illinois. It's good to now that there is another author out there who writes specifically for reluctant boy readers. I will make mention of your books in a future post. Regards, Trevor

Ang said...

Hi Trevor,

I've been posting your links on Facebook today because we've been having an indepth dicussion about the importance of Fathers in encouraging boys to read.

Another author who writes for reluctant boy readers is Denis Martin of NZ.

Thanks for your blog!

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Angela,

Thanks for your comment. I appreciate you pushing my blog via Facebook.